By Andrew Korybko
The escalating tensions between the US and Pakistan over what Washington says is Islamabad’s provision of “safe havens to terrorists” might lead to NATO being cut off from Afghanistan. In a telling sign of his priorities for the year, Trump’s first foreign policy tweet of 2018 slammed Pakistan and was soon thereafter followed up by the suspension of an estimated $900 million of military aid to the South Asian state. In response, the Pakistani Foreign Minister stated that his country was no longer in an alliance with the US and said that its partner was treating it as a “whipping boy” for its failure in Afghanistan, powerfully remarking that America is “a friend who always betrays”. This gave rise to a growing choir of voices in Pakistan who are urging the government to suspend the US’ transit rights through their territory en route to Afghanistan, effectively dealing a major blow to Trump’s mini-surge there, while others have said that Islamabad should massively raise its transit fees instead in order to recoup its losses.
About those, Prime Minister Abbasi actually claimed that his country never even received anywhere near the almost $1 billion that Trump said that he’ll freeze, telling The Guardian that “the aid in the last five years at least has been less than $10m a year. It is a very, very insignificant amount. So when I read in the paper that aid at the level of $250m or 500 or 900 has been cut, we at least are not aware of that aid.” The downward spiral of US-Pakistani relations reminds people of what happened back in 2011 when NATO killed 28 Pakistani troops and Islamabad responded by stopping the bloc’s access to Afghanistan, forcing it rely on the much longer and costlier multimodal “Lapis Lazuli” corridor across the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The stakes are raised even higher now because not only is a repeat of this scenario being contemplated, but Pakistan announced that over 1.5 million Afghan refugees have 30 days to leave the country after their legal presence there ended at the beginning of 2018, and Kabul will probably be thrown even deeper into crisis if it’s suddenly forced to provide for a roughly 4% spike in its population. Of course, Pakistan might ultimately be bluffing, but its best bet is nevertheless to play the Afghan card in one capacity or another as an asymmetrical response to the US. Farooq Moin, Pakistani journalist who’s travelled around the world for news coverage since 1976, and Shahid Hameed, Islamabad-based International Relations analyst and regular contributor to ‘Urdu Alerts’ & ‘Kashmir Points’, shared their views.